7-12 players

Fanfare for a New Institute

On the occasion of Africa Open's Opening
Commissioned by Africa Open Institute
Duration: 2'00"


First performance: Tuesday 9 October 2018, 18h00; Africa Open Institute, 7 Joubert Street, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa; Musicians of African Open Institute and Stellenbosch Conservatoriumperformance details.

Programme note

Fanfares date back particularly to the 19th century as a musical announcement of the arrival of an important person, and were traditionally played by trumpets plus other brass instruments and percussion. In the 20th century it has been more widely used: there are fanfares for all sorts of occasions by Copland, De Falla, Satie and Stravinsky, whose "Fanfare for a New Theatre" partly inspired mine. In the central space it features two trumpets and side drum, with a group of wind and a group of strings in two adjoining spaces. 

Piano Concerto No 2 ("Boschpoort")

  1. Allegro (crotchet = 96) (c. 14'00")
  2. (dotted crotchet = 42) (c. 9'10")
To the memory of Sally Rose
Commissioned by MIAGI (Music is a Great Investment)
Parts on hire
Duration: c. 23'10"


First performance: Wednesday 1 October 2014; Joseph Haydn Hall, Music University Vienna, Austria; Ensemble Reconsil, Roland Freisitzer conductorperformance details.

Programme note

The starting points for this work were twofold: a commission for Ensemble Reconsil which specified the instrumentation, and a longstanding opportunity to collaborate with the South African conceptual artist Willem Boshoff, composing music to complement the images collected on his Druid walks. He suggested images from several of his walks at Boschpoort, the quarry which has yielded the granite for his large-scale sculptures.

The first movement was composed during a joint residency with Willem Boshoff at the Nirox Foundation outside Johannesburg in October 2012. Most of the second movement was written during the summer of 2013 at the home of Christopher Smith and Fiona Campbell in Balledent in the French Limousin.

My Piano Concerto No 2 is scored for piano and two instrumental groups: flute, trumpet, trombone, viola + bass clarinet, violin, cello. In the first movement the piano has more of a concertante than a soloistic role, while in the second it engages with the ensemble in a simple elegiac exchange, ending with bowed piano strings spelling out the musical letters S-A-H-D-A-E.

It was commissioned by MIAGI (Music is a Great Investment) for Ensemble Reconsil, and is dedicated to the memory of Sally Rose, for whom several of my piano works were written in the 1990s, and who died at the age of 49 in February 2012.

Rural Arias

Dedicated to Ensemble Reconsil on their fifth anniversary
Commissioned by Ensemble Reconsil
Parts on hire
Bardic Edition Score BDE 948
Duration: c. 10'00"


First performance: Tuesday 2 October 2007; Arnold Schoenberg Center, Vienna, Austria; Maria Frodl singing saw, Ensemble Reconsil, Roland Freisitzer conductorperformance details.

Programme note

Rural Arias is a lament for the rural areas of South Africa and the people who live in them, those most affected by devastating problems such as climate change, poverty, and HIV/Aids. This is the real 21st-century South Africa, and the disembodied sound of the singing saw attempts to give voice to those fragile and disempowered communities. The first performance was given on 2 October 2007 in the Arnold Schoenberg Center, Vienna, by Maria Frodl (singing saw) and Ensemble Reconsil conducted by Roland Freisitzer.


Blake has nothing to prove and plenty to say. His music has an expressive spontaneity, which conveys in quick patterns that life is pitiless and that nothing can be taken for granted. His Rural Arias is not a collection of folk songs but a magnificent, craggy lament for South Africa’s rural population, feeling the devastating effects of climate change, poverty and HIV/AIDS. As he searched out original methods for evoking truth, and in a bid to jolt the listener out of any complacency, Blake used a musical saw to produce a sonorous sadness which reverberated hauntingly.
Mary Jordan, Business Day, Johannesburg

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Brandenburg Floor Plan

Bardic Edition Score BD; Parts BD in preparation
Duration: 4'15"

Programme note

Brandenburg Floor Plan was intended as some of the music for a dance commission from Regine Chopinot’s Company and Roland Hayrebedian’s Ensemble Musicatreize, with the provisional title Desire. Early in 2002 I was summoned to Paris to attend the premiere of a new work by Chopinot when the company danced to 18th century French orchestral music played on period instruments. The forces for the commissioned work were three singers and a small instrumental ensemble playing modern instruments. When the collaboration was called off later that year, I guess because of incompatibility between the choreographer’s radical, and music director’s modernist, aesthetics, I decided to rearrange the music written up to that point for the forces of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 6 on which it was in any case based.

Brandenburg Floor Plan could be played as a pendant to J S Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 6 BWV 1051. The design is modelled on the floor plan of the opening Allegro movement of Brandenburg 6 and draws on material from that movement as well as the Ricercar à 6 and some of the canons from The Musical Offering. It is dedicated to Regine Chopinot in visual silence.

Reverie /Isimncgano

African Journal No 23b
For Peter van Bergen and Ensemble Loos
Bardic Edition Score BD; Parts BD in preparation
Duration: c. 12'30"

Programme note

The score is prefaced with lines from Olive Schreiner's novel 'Story of an African Farm': ... "of the joy of the dreamer no man knoweth but he who dreameth ... without phantoms and dreams man cannot exist." The musical material is derived from two vocal sources, one Shona and one San (Bushman), and is transformed by repetition and extension, superimposition and distortion. I suppose this is the stuff of dreams.

Meanwhile, having revised the work early in 1999, I subsequently noticed many fascinating parallels with the techniques of San rock painting during a visit to the remarkable paintings at Tandjesberg, near Ladybrand in the Free State. The coda was inspired by listening to a whole weekend of concerts of Charles Ives in London.

Peter van Bergen visited me in Grahamstown in 2000 and listened to recordings of my works; after hearing Reverie he asked me to transcribe it for the four saxophone players of Ensemble Loos. He liked the somewhat sadistic idea of the players "having to sustain those long notes".

Strings and Electric Guitar

  1. (Lower) String Quartet and Electric Guitar (c. 5'00")
  2. Flute, Strings, Harpsichord and Electric Guitar (c. 8'20")
Requested by Evenings of New Music for the 'Bach 250 Years After' project
Parts on hire
Bardic Edition Score BDE 806
Duration: c. 13'20"


First performance: Friday 9 June 2000; Evenings of New Music, Bratislava Castle, Bratislava, Slovakia; Musica aeterna, Karol Kompas electric guitar, Marián Lejava conductorperformance details.

Programme note

(Lower) String Quartet and Electric Guitar was my response to the request from Evenings of New Music 2000 for a piece having a connection with Bach's Ricercar a 6 from The Musical Offering. I had always wanted to write for the delicious instrumentation of the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto and the four lower string instruments of the available ensemble more or less gave me that opportunity. Bur rather than use a Baroque plucked instrument, I chose the electric guitar as a kind of bridge to the 18th century, and then allowed that instrument to dictate much of the kind of material that appears in the piece. As a whole the ensemble seems to veer (sometimes quite frenetically) between a viol consort on the one hand, and a rock band on the other. The Royal Theme meanwhile appears in various guises and places in this "offertorium". I worked on this piece while my father was very ill and he died during its composition. He loved Bach's music and so I have dedicated my piece to his memory.


Two Centenaries: Canon on Arnold Schönberg's Name & Quodlibet for Charles Ives

  1. Canon on Arnold Schönberg's Name (for alto flute, bass clarinet, glockenspiel, celesta, viola and cello) (1'25")
  2. Quodlibet for Charles Ives (for flute/piccolo, clarinet in B flat, timpani, piano, violin, viola and cello) (3'35")
Duration: c. 5'00"


First performance: Tuesday 10 June 1975; South African Association of Arts, Carlton Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa; Orion Ensemble, Michael Blake conductorperformance details.

Programme note

One of the most intriguing musical coincidences of our time must be the fact that Schönberg and Ives were born in the same year, and this pair of anniversary pieces focuses on a particular characteristic of each of them: a serial canon for Schönberg - based on the musical letters of his name - and an atonal potpourri for Ives - substituting Cape Malay and Afrikaans songs for the American hymns and songs he used in the central piece of his 'Set for Theatre Orchestra' - 'In the Inn'. 

Fantasia on One Note

Arrangement of Purcell
African Notebook No 5
Duration: c. 3'00"


First performance: Sunday 25 September 1977; Market Theatre, Johannesburg, South Africa; Moonchild, Michael Blake conductorperformance details.

Programme note

My arrangement of the Purcell 'Fantasia' is punctuated by bells playing the repeated C, while exploring figuration found in some traditional African musics such as mbira music which I had been studying in the mid-1970s. This was one of several preliminary etudes for a future African-based cycle of compositions called 'African Journal'.     


African Journal No 2
Duration: c. 8'44"

Programme note

In spring 1979 I heard a concert by Louis Andriessen’s Hoketus Ensemble in Amsterdam. The lineup of pairs of instruments and the use of hocket technique in many of the pieces resonated with interlocking in the African music I had been studying. After the concert I rushed back to my hotel and as an exercise started plotting an arrangement of Machaut’s Hoquetus David, a piece I had known and loved for a decade. I used more sombre pairs of instruments than Hoketus: clarinets, trumpets, marimbas, pianos, lower strings - instead of panpipes, saxophones, electric basses and keyboards – and the resultant piece is quite brittle, fragmentary, like Machaut on ‘speed’.

Spring in New X

African Journal No 3
Written for the Goldsmiths Contemporary Music Ensemble
Duration: 5'15"


First performance: March 1980; Goldsmiths College, London, United Kingdom; Goldsmiths Contemporary Music Ensemble, Michael Blake conductorperformance details.

Programme note

Between 1978 and 1980, I directed the Goldsmiths Contemporary Music Ensemble which I had established at the instigation of former head of music Stanley Glasser. Unusual among the available resources was both guitar and mandolin, so among other pieces we studied Schoenberg’s Serenade Op 24, but it was also the mandolin player Patrick Foster, who put forward the suggestion that I write a piece in which all the members of the ensemble could play.

As a postgraduate student in the late 1970s I made the journey regularly to Goldsmiths College in New Cross, southeast London. Anyone who travelled by train to Goldsmiths College until the 1990s will remember the destination sign on the trains which read “New X” or “New X Gate”, and anyone who was living in Britain in May 1979 will remember the tragic demise of Jim Callaghan’s minority Labour government, and the arrival on the scene of the odious Margaret Thatcher and her rightwing government.

That was a spring one would have preferred to forget, but I put my mind to composing a kind of canon – a musical image overlaid four times somewhat erratically, as if the groups of instruments were completely independent. 

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